A remarkable debut novel by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, Powder Necklace is nothing less than a heart-wrenching tour de force of the transformational journey of a young girl shuttling physically and emotionally across three continents and between parents. Wading into the complex territory of identity and fate, Powder Necklace reiterates that ‘life takes time to live’ which in essence forms the very basis of this absorbing novel.
Raised by a single mother, Lila is a British teenager born to a Ghanaian family. To protect her from bad influences of London, Lila’s mother quite abruptly sends her off to her native Ghana in an attempt to provide her with the opportunity to discover her roots. Ghana comes as an utter shock to Lila beyond her wildest imaginations as she is enrolled at Dadaba Girls’ Secondary School in Ghana.
Over the course of the time Lila spends at Dadaba boarding school, she lives in her own worst nightmare, struggling to blend in with her fellow students, who see her as the outsider. An intruder who doesn’t belong there. Despite getting her hair chopped off and being the object of constant public ridicule, Lila endures all the hurdles she faces with sheer determination surprising even herself.
Soon she finds comfort in the company of three friends: Brempomaa, Ivy and Hari. Just when Lila is getting adapted to the culture of her native country and getting comfortable under her own native skin, Lila is brought back to London where she meets the new man in her mother’s life Ronan and her daughter Chardonnay.
Lila’s frustrations with her mother and even her life reaches its peak when she was send off to live with her Dad and stepmother Joo-Li and their kids in New York. Settling into her new life, Lila struggles to find her identity, her true nature and her place in the world while encountering Fate which will take her back to Ghana on a life-altering journey.
“I resented Mum for putting me in this situation again and for not being strong enough to handle her full responsibility to me. She wasn’t allowed breaks from me, just like I wasn’t allowed breaks from her. She was my mother and I was her daughter. I was born to br her responsibility.”
The vivid, awe-inspiring detail with which Brew-Hammond carefully unfolds Lila’s life in Ghana comes as a disturbing shock enough to make you cringe at the hardship of life in Ghana. The luminous prose takes the readers along with the protagonist into a world where water is scarce, where the only way they retain their pride and dignity lies in the powder necklaces they wear to disguise those who had water to clean themselves and those who hasn’t.
“Water became a symbol of who had and who didn’t. If you didn’t have water to bath with you were poor because no one has sent you some. Those who were lucky enough to be able to bath made sure everyone knew it by painting their throats with chokers of powder. “
As the extraordinary journey makes its way across Ghana, London and New York, Lila’s relationship with her parents and friends are explored thoroughly while Lila’s struggles with her sense of identity to discover her roots are told in aching reality.
In this emotionally-charged sentimental tale of a girl lost in her own identity, Powder Necklace wins you over. An engrossing novel that deserves five-star rating. Highly recommended!
Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Author Exposure (September 2010)